The Core: The Revivalists’ David Shaw
David Shaw, frontman for New Orleans rockers The Revivalists, waxes poetic on jam scene camaraderie, the civic benefits of festivals and a fortuitous game of ping-pong with Ellen.
Coming up through the festival world during the past few years, we’ve been something of the underdogs on the road among all of our musical heroes, and the title of our last record [2015’s Men Amongst Mountains] speaks to that. We actually like being the underdogs; there’s a nice energy that goes along with it, getting rooted for as the new guys on the block coming onto the scene. “Men Amongst Mountains” was birthed out of that spirit. We wrote that song in Colorado and it was cool to have that Colorado vibe running through it.
All of the bigger marquee acts have always been really nice; there’s a lot of camaraderie on the scene. We’re always down with a sit-in—there’s this sense of danger that it can fall apart that creates this incredible energy. Warren Haynes came and played with us at our Jazz Fest late-night show, and we did “Gimme Shelter,” which is among my favorite sit-ins ever. Warren’s not just an amazing musician but also an amazing soul. I also always love it when Brandon Niederauer [Taz] joins us, and there was the time when Robert Randolph jammed with us in Indianapolis, which may be my favorite sit-in.
We all come from very different places musically—I come from a straight rock-and-roll background—and ended up in the jamband scene organically. We were always about the song, but when we first started playing as a band, to make ends meet, we would play these marathon shows for four or five hours. We only had 10 songs so we thought, “How long can we stretch this thing?” New Orleans has always been our home so we want to continue to spread that culture—I look at people like Preservation Hall’s Ben Jaffe, who acts as a musical ambassador for the city and has brought in people like Arcade Fire. We also never had a stock rock lineup, and I think we are introducing something different to people who might not necessarily be familiar with our instrumentation. At least a few times a year someone will say to me: “Man, that guy really kills it on the keyboard,” and I’ll say, “It’s a pedal steel, but thank you for the compliment.” So I’m super grateful for the jam community—those fans know all our musical idiosyncrasies and come back night after night.
I realized something was going on when Ellen DeGeneres’ people called our people and said, “Ellen heard the band and wants them on the show.” We’d actually been reaching out to her camp for a while because she’s an awesome person; she does so many amazing things for the world, not to mention she’s funny as hell. She’s from New Orleans and, while we were shooting the shit, playing ping-pong, it came out that we’re from New Orleans, too. She’s like, “We’re gonna be friends forever.” That was one of those moments where it was like, “We’re here now.” [The Revivalists’ 2016 crossover single “Wish I Knew You”—which was produced by Galactic’s Ben Ellman— eventually topped the Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart and set a record, since surpassed by Portugal. The Man, for most plays during a week’s time for any alternative/ modern rock song.]
HOME IS WHERE YOUR FESTIVAL IS
I grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and always felt there was a lot of potential there; something just needed to get the embers burning a bit. Look at a place like Asheville, N.C. It’s a beautiful city in the mountains, but what really makes that place so cool is that it has music flowing through its veins. I started the Big River Get Down because I thought Hamilton could be this pretty, hippie mountain town and it’s starting to happen; they are writing articles in the The Cincinnati Inquirer about Hamilton being the next up-and-coming city in Ohio. Music has this way of bringing everybody together—5-10 years ago people used to say, “Oh, I’m from Hamilton.” But now they say, “I’m from Hamilton.” And it’s really a change that comes from the people; it can’t really come from anywhere else. That’s what makes people wanna stay and not move to a bigger city when they’re 17, 18. It’s about having pride about where you come from.
The Revivalists at New Orleans’ Jazz Fest 2018
THAT TRANSCENDENT PLACE
We are working with Dave Cobb on our next album. He’s just an amazing producer who captures that live feel. He knows what to do with the song; he’s that guy who knows how to pick out a hook and squeeze the best juice out of what you have. That’s what a great producer does—they take the thing that you give them and they elevate it. We’ve started to play a couple of new songs live, but we aren’t going to play too many before we release the album.
There’s been times when we’ve written songs and, when we started playing them live, we’ve felt, “That’s cool but it didn’t take us to that transcendent place.” Even if it is a song we haven’t played for a while, sometimes we feel like, “This one is better on the album.” It’s not a conscious thing when we write a song, but some cuts are just better live, and some are better on the album.
We used to play all our songs as soon as we wrote them, but we would never have anything new left when the album was finally released. Now it’s a bit maddening that we have to wait to play all these new songs when we have been playing the same songs for 10 years. But we are going to unbound them when the album comes out.
This article originally appears in the June 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.